Tag: UK

Christianity’s changing attitude toward animals

Nadyat El Gawley

The image is unforgettable, seared into my memory: pigs in utter anguish being gassed to death. You can turn away, but you can’t unsee the suffering on their faces.  A suffering that punches you in the heart. A suffering you can’t deal with and imagine for just a second that it can’t be true. It just can’t be.

ID 24602464 © Ihervas | Dreamstime.com

It’s a tiny snippet of a video on the website of the advocacy group, Animals Australia. There are others of course across the Internet—baby male calves being taken away (to the slaughterhouse) from mother cows, ducks and geese being violently fed in appalling conditions to produce foie gras, and shocking abuse of animals in some Australian abattoirs.

The cruelty of factory farming say animal advocates is on a colossal and indefensible scale; and it begs the question: Where did humanity get the idea that it could do what it liked to fellow creatures?

For some, the answer may be found in chapter one of the Biblical story of  Genesis where God gives Adam and Eve a mandate  to: “Subdue the earth  and have dominion over  the fish of the sea …the fowl of the air and every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

This has been a long-held and traditional Christian view, but leading Christian thinkers are now challenging it, and urging a new re-reading of Biblical teaching on animals. They’re also uncovering a  forgotten history of passionate campaigns for animal rights by many Christians.

A legacy of Christian animal activism

Rewind to the beginning of the 19th century,  and to what surprised Professor David Clough about Christianity and anti-vivisection campaigning.

Professor Clough teaches theological ethics at the University of Chester in the UK and says what’s been most striking about Christian activism for animals is how they engaged with the issue almost 200 years ago.

“ It was a real surprise to me when I started researching this area [to find] that it was Christians at the beginning of the 19th century who had become really concerned at the amount of animal cruelty going on, “ he told ABC Radio National’s The Religion and Ethics Report.  “ They were among  leading campaigners for changing the law to make animal cruelty illegal in Britain for the first time.”

It was leading evangelists such as William Wilberforce who campaigned for those laws, later joining with others to form the RSPCA.  Together with a group of Christians and a prominent Jew, Wilberforce, who had been a high profile campaigner for the abolition of slavery, founded the RSPCA in 1824, writes professor Clough in The Ark  the newsletter of UK based Catholic Concern for Animals.

However , he says that by the beginning of the last century with the rise of secularism in Western Europe and falling church attendance, groups such as the RSPCA wanted a broader reach and downplayed the Christian aspect of the organisation.  There was also, WW1 and the devastating human tragedy of the Great War to which Christians turned their attention.

The winds of change

There’s a scene in the 2016 Italian TV mini-series–Call Me Francis –where in the 60s, a young Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) intervenes to save a pig from the torments of a group of male students. This may have been a portend for the future where as Pope Francis, he releases his second encyclical Ludato Si, Praise be to you, in 2015. It’s one of the most far-reaching statements to come out of the Vatican on the place of animals in Christian teaching.  Significantly, it tackles traditional thinking about humanity being at the centre of creation with unchecked power over it.

“This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church, “ says the encyclical.

ID 120255764 © Mark Bosman | Dreamstime.com

“ Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” (LS 67).

Ludato Si  was not the only important statement on animals to come out of Christianity that year.  In September, American evangelicals released their own statement on animal protection–Every Living  Thing.  It calls on Christians to avoid treating animals cruelly and was the result of a unique four-year collaboration between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the evangelical community.  Over 1000 evangelical leaders and scholars signed the document.

Yet the statement is prefaced by a declaration that it’s not doctrinal in nature,  it  doesn’t address particular issues, and says that humans have greater worth than animals.  So how significant is it in getting Christians to focus on animal rights?

Professor Clough’s research indicates that Christians don’t see the link between their faith and the treatment of non-human animals.  But he told Radio National  that  the US statement is of  considerable importance.

“Often, evangelicals in the US have been thought as most resistant to issues like concern for animals or wider environmental concerns,” he told the ABC. “But, avoiding treating animals cruelly in the current context of what we’re doing to animals in intensive farming systems is a really radical statement.

If we were to seriously investigate the implications of not visiting unnecessary cruelty on animals through our farming practices, perhaps 98 percent of the current products available would be off the table for Christians.”

Goats at Hart Acres Animal Haven, NSW. Photo N. El Gawley

How much does the public know?

“ One of the things I talk about is that commercial egg production ( including free range and organic egg ) relies on the killing of male chics because they are of no economic value,” he told The Religion and Ethics Report. “And so what happens to them, is that they are dropped live into a grinding machine called a macerator which thought to be the most humane way of dispatching them.”

How little the public know about  factory farms is a widespread concern.  In talking to many groups in the UK, Professor David Clough notes audience reaction when he explains what happens in the egg industry.

These chics are usually a day old, and billions are killed in this manner each year across the world. In Australia, about 12 million perish this way.

“That’s a shock to the audiences that I speak to.  You can almost hear an audible gasp in the room when I mention that kind of example.”

Cracks in the veneer

There ’s good news among all this in Australia. While the most recent statistics on worldwide meat eating trends, put Australia at the top in 2015; a year later , Roy Morgan Research found that just over two million of us (11.2 percent) are either vegetarian or vegan—up from 1.7 million in 2012.  Many are switching for health reasons, but some are making the change for ethical reasons, and for the animals. And Roy Morgan Research predicts the trend is set to continue.

Courtesy of Veganuary

Thousands of  Australians sign up for Veganuary, 31 days of vegan eating in January and the Daily Telegraph reports that according to data from Google Trends, Aussies are more interested in learning about vegan principles than they are about the much-hyped keto and Paleo diets.

“ What really strikes me in relation to farmed animals is that this is an issue which is a big problem, but one which we can have an immediate impact on,” professor Clough told RN’s Religion and Ethics Report.   “ If we stop consuming the products of factory farming, the animals will not be enlisted into these systems. And so through a daily practice of what we choose to eat, we can make a difference to the numbers of animals that are being forced into these cruel systems.”

Animals: the abandoned mates of war

Nadyat El Gawley


August 2 2015

The older she gets, the more pessimistic she feels. To writer Jill Mather, there’s no cure for humans’ lack of respect for animals. And so since her retirement, it’s been her mission to record their stories. Specifically, those that perished in war.

Eight million animals died in the Great War. They carried soldiers and supplies, delivered messages, were shot at and killed.   Six million alone were horses, about as many as the allies’ military casualties. The difference is, as Ms Mather says, the horses didn’t volunteer.

She talks about how she had to give up her horse after she contracted polio at the age of 16. There’s a silence, and then she says: “I never really recovered”.

Looking out the window at Yarramalong Valley on New South Wales’ Central Coast where she lives, she can see horse and goat paddocks. The animals seem fine despite the day being one of those stormy rainy days on the east coast of New South Wales . Her love for animals and knowledge of the horse has driven her work. The former journalist and teacher has written five books including Forgotten Heroes, about the Australian Waler in WW1.

Walers are mixed breed horses bred for outback conditions. They are evenly tempered animals, reliable in tough environments.

“ We have a special affinity with horses,” she says. ”Let’s take the light horsemen who were on patrol in the Sinai for example. If those horses made a noise or snorted, or stamped, or called for a mate, they could reveal their position. So when a trooper put his hand on his neck, that horse knew to freeze.

“He also could move through those desert sand hills very silently. They could rely on one another. If the trooper was shot or injured in any way, there are many stories of horses carrying the trooper back to base camp.“

Horses Abandoned

Through the complex history of WW1, the fall of empires, battles won and lost, the horse remains on the fringes. Looking for their story has highlighted the “profiteering” of war for Alex McInnis, media and communications officer at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. She sees evidence of that in the Australian Government’s refusal to bring home horses sent to war.

“The Government sold them,” she said.   “It was too expensive to bring them back. They abandoned them.”

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Horses of the Australian Light Horse Association at Tails From the Past , Addison Rd Community Centre. Photo with permission by Addison Rd Community Centre.

The Australian War Memorial records 136,000 horses being sent from Australia to France, India, the Western Front and the Middle East with the troops. At the end of the war, most horses were sold to European countries, and to India, then a British colony.

“At the end of the war,” says Jane Peek, Curator of Military and Technology at the Australian War Memorial, “most of the horses were sold onto Belgian farmers or unfortunately –the ones that couldn’t be sold on–there was a very strong market in horse meat and that’s still the case in Belgium and France. And the very best of them were selected to go to Britain for breeding.”

“In Palestine where the Australian light horse was operating, at any one time, there were 13000 horses. Of these, 2000 were put down because they were too old or debilitated.”

Only one horse, Sandy,  came home.

Bridging the divide

The old military barracks at Marrickville’s Addison Road Community Centre has been a space for multicultural services and alternative groups since the 1970s. In this small Inner West suburb, there’s a big history. The nine-acre site was the army’s major centre for enlistment in almost every conflict in the 20th century according to Sue Castrique, the Centre’s historian.

Young conscripts were sent from there for training before going to Vietnam and it was there where the Save Our Sons (SOS) movement protested against the war with its silent vigils.

But, it was not always about war. In its early days, the Centre was about the horses and the community. Rosy Porter, Program Co-ordinator at the Centre, is mindful of the layers of history. She, along with colleagues and volunteers helped to mark the site’s history and the Australian Centenary with an event about horses—Tails from the Past.

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Military drill, Tails from the past. Photo, Addison Rd community Centre ( by permission)

“It was actually the horses that bridged some of the divides between the community and the Army at the time [the first half of the 20th century], because the kids would come in to see the horses and then talk to the officers here. The officers would ride the horses up Addison Road and the kids would follow. The army actually had a close relationship with the community. “

Wars and Protests

But once the site became a community centre, political attitudes changed. Sue Castrique, says the organisation’s  outlook was the direct opposite to the “whitewashed huts and strict military discipline”.

“Many community centre members had been shaped by anti-conscription protests,“ she writes, “some were refugees from war zones. For some time, there was unease about recognising the site’s past as an army depot, or becoming the guardians of a history with the army’s conservative and militaristic overtones. ‘Historical’ was a word most often used when talking about leaking rooves, a soggy car park and the tangle of phone lines that made technicians weep.”

But things have changed, and today, organisers of Tails From the Past stress they want to bring both sides of the Centre’s history together.

Staying neutral

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Stirrup Cafe, Addison Rd Community Centre. Photo: N. El Gawley

The Addison Road Community Centre is busy with activity. The black and white themed Stirrup Café is the first of the many huts on the site. Several community, arts and environmental organisations have made their home here.     To the left, there’s a truck unloading old furniture for the Bower Centre —a recycling outfit that runs the Men’s Shed in Marrickville. And further down, is the Centre’s office. A strong theme of social justice runs through the posters and notices on the wall. Outside in the crisp sun, planes fly overhead, dogs run through the grounds highlighting the centre’s dog friendly policies, and children chatter as they make their way to another activity.

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A dog-friendly workplace. Photo: N.El Gawley

People who went to the Tails from the Past event and whose views varied on the question of war had regarded the Centre as a safe space Ms Porter says.

“ I think it’s important, even of you disagree, to still know the history of war and …find out what it meant for the horses or for the men and how tough it was, so you can then reflect on war and what it means to go to war now today.”

“We had the Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign inside the hall as one of the stalls …but we had the Light Horse Association [who] do the re-enactments. We had diggers coming back [who] remembered the site. We had family members of diggers who passed away, and they were some of our honorary guests. We had a mixture of people coming together on both sides of those two views,” she said.

The Horse

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Tails from the Past, Addison Rd Community Centre, Marrickville, Sydney. ( by permission)

Phillip Chalker, president of the Australian Light Horse Association is easygoing and relaxed, having just bought some feed for his horses, and has pulled over into a car park for the interview. He is passionate about increasing awareness of the role the horse played in the Great War.

“ When I went to school (1973), I don’t remember ever, hearing about the light horse. It was always about Gallipoli and the Western front, “ he says.

“ There was more [that happened] in WW1 than Gallipoli and the Western front. We’re interested in educating and communicating with people about the role of the horse in the third front: Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq).” And after about 20 years of talking to groups and making contact with the community, Mr Chalker feels things are changing.

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War Horse, sculpture by the Bower Centre. Photo: N El Gawley

We owe more to animals than we know or remember as Jill Mather argues. Being forgotten by government after all they had meant–“the horses were all” she says–is to animal advocates, a terrible injustice of the war.

Horses suffered extreme thirst and hunger, carried heavy weaponry, were shot at and wounded horribly. The Hughes Government’s decision in 1918 was a blow to many.

“A lot of soldiers were prepared to pay for their horse. They would’ve paid anything to have got their mate back,” says Ms Mather.

But the soldiers had no power to influence a post-war government they had sold their horse to.

“When soldiers joined up in 1914, some of them came with their horse, in which case, the army bought the horse from them, “ said Ms Peek. “So it became army property. Now I think, there was a lot of resentment at the end of the war when the horses couldn’t come home.”

The story doesn’t stop there. There were other animals such as camels, donkeys, even elephants that were used for war fighting purposes and died in WW1 according to Jill Mather. She says mules delivered medical supplies, and carried gun parts “staggering on until they dropped dead and nobody cared”.

It is why she writes books about the cost to animals in conflicts, and why it has become her life’s passion.